Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Turkey Fires

Thanksgiving Day comes, by statute, once a year; to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow.  -Edward Sandford Martin
I hope and pray you did not burn down your house this Thanksgiving. It does happen as FEMA warns ...
2,000 Thanksgiving Day fires occur annually in residential buildings in the United States, resulting in an average of five deaths, 25 injuries and $21 million in property. The leading cause of these Thanksgiving Day fires is cooking (typically in the afternoon hours from noon to 4 p.m).  Unfortunately, smoke alarms were not present in 20 percent of Thanksgiving Day fires.
"Disasters can happen any time, any where, but some emergencies at home can be avoided by taking a few simple steps for safety," said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.  "And don't forget this holiday season, while gathered around the table with family and friends, is a great time to talk about your family emergency plan, and what you would do in the case of a disaster." 
The US Fire Agency suggests these safety cooking tips: 
  • Make sure you have smoke alarms on every level of your home, outside each sleeping area, and in every bedroom.  Test smoke alarms monthly and replace them if they are 10 years old or older.
  • Keep a close watch on your cooking.  You should never leave cooking food unattended.
  • Keep oven food packaging and other combustibles away from burners and heat sources.
  • Heat cooking oil slowly and watch it closely; it can ignite quickly.
  • Don't wear loose sleeves while working over hot stove burners - they can melt, ignite or catch on handles of pots and pans spilling hot oil and other liquids.
  • Have a "kid-free zone" of at least three-feet around the stove and areas where hot foods or drinks are prepared or carried.
  • Keep a lid nearby to smother small grease fires.  Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turn off the stovetop.  Leave the pan covered until it is completely cool.
Deep-fried turkey has quickly grown in popularity but safety experts are concerned that backyard chefs may be sacrificing fire safety for good taste.  If you absolutely must use a turkey fryer, please use the following tips:
Turkey fryers should always be used outdoors a safe distance from buildings and any other flammable materials.
  • Never use turkey fryers in a garage or on a wooden deck.
  • Make sure the fryers are used on a flat surface to reduce accidental tipping.
  • Never leave the fryer unattended.  Most units do not have thermostat controls.  If you do not watch the fryer carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.
  • Never let children or pets near the fryer even if it is not in use.  The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot hours after use.
  • To avoid oil spillover, do not overfill the fryer.
  • Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts when touching pot or lid handles.  If possible, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from oil splatter.
  • Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and be careful with marinades. Oil and water do not mix, and water causes oil to spill over causing a fire or even an explosion hazard.
  • The National Turkey Federation (NTF) recommends thawing the turkey in the refrigerator approximately 24 hours for every five pounds in weight.
  • Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby.  Never use water to extinguish a grease fire.  If the fire is manageable, use your all-purpose fire extinguisher.  If the fire increases, immediately call the fire department for help.
Bottom Line
"Thanksgiving marks the start of a very busy time for all firefighters," said Acting Fire Administrator Glenn Gaines.  "Holiday decorations, heating, and increased indoor cooking all present just some of the causes of residential fires. Your place of residence should be the safest place of all. Protect it with working smoke alarms and know what to do if a fire should occur."

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Are You Smarter Than a Turkey?

"I love Thanksgiving turkey... It's the only time in Los Angeles that you see natural breasts." — Arnold Schwarzenegger

I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and the turkey turned out perfectly. If it didn't, next time call a Turkey Talk-Line for help. Most turkey companies have operators standing by to assist. The Reuters news agency interviewed call-takers at Butterball to discover the oddest questions asked:

*Is it okay to thaw my turkey in the bathtub while bathing my kids?

*Can I brine my turkey in the washing machine?

*Can I use my oven's self-cleaning cycle to speed up the cooking process?

*If I cut my turkey with a chainsaw will the oil affect the taste?

*Can I take my frozen turkey into my sauna to thaw it faster?

Bottom Line

How would you answer these questions?

Has this ever happened to you?  A disappointed woman called Butterball wondering why her turkey had no breast meat. It turned out she had cooked it upside-down

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Last Train to Hogwarts

This picture has been making the rounds on the internet...

Someone placed a 9 3/4 sticker over the defunct W line in honor of Harry Potter at the 14th St. Union Square station in New York City.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

It's Black Friday! Run!

Bottom Line
From Wikipedia,
"Black Friday is the Friday following Thanksgiving Day ... The term dates back to at least 1966 [on the East Coast but] has become more common in other parts of the country since 2000. ... According to Reuters, in 2007 135 million people participated in the Black Friday shopping rush.
Many retailers open extremely early, with most of the retailers typically opening at 5AM or even ... as early as midnight ... Upon opening, retailers offer doorbuster deals and loss leaders to draw people to their stores. Black Friday, as the first shopping day after Thanksgiving, [serves] as the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season"
Please don't get carried away...

Worker dies at Long Island Wal-Mart after being trampled in Black Friday stampede (2008)

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Thursday, November 25, 2010


Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Politics Roundup

“The single most exciting thing you encounter in government is competence, because it's so rare.” - Daniel P. Moynihan
Here are a few news stories that caught my eye yesterday,

Wall Street Journal: A Sucker's Play -- Each $1 in Higher Taxes Results in $1.17 of New Spending
A presidential deficit reduction commission recommends a 6.5% national sales tax to help reduce the deficit. But a study in the late 80's showed that for every dollar in taxes raised, congress increased spending by $1.58. Repeat studies continue to back this up. The most recent results show that from post-WWII to today, an average of $1.17 of new spending is approved for every extra dollar taxed. Economist Milton Friedman said, "Politicians will always spend every penny of tax raised and whatever else they can get away with."

Who's in charge of the State Department? Taliban Leader in Secret Talks Was an Impostor
"For months, the secret talks unfolding between Taliban and Afghan leaders to end the war appeared to be showing promise, if only because of the appearance of a certain insurgent leader at one end of the table: Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, one of the most senior commanders in the Taliban movement. But now, it turns out, Mr. Mansour was apparently not Mr. Mansour at all." ... “It’s not him,” said a Western diplomat in Kabul, “and we gave him a lot of money.”
Irish Debt Crisis Forces Collapse of Government
"The impending collapse of the Irish government after an expensive bailout seemed only to reconfirm fears that the financial crisis was far from contained."
Is California paying attention? Is the US? This can't happen to us, right?

From Instapundit, DOES THE TSA KILL?
According to a Cornell study on risk-shifting and risk-increasing roughly 130 travelers die every three months as a result of traffic fatalities brought on by choosing to drive instead of suffering the inconveniences of flying. That’s the equivalent of four fully-loaded Boeing 737s crashing each year.

Bottom Line

I'm reminded of the theme song from a weekly sketch on Hee Haw, "Gloom, Despair and Agony On Me"

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Truth is stranger than fiction

“Space flights are merely an escape, a fleeing away from oneself, because it is easier to go to Mars or to the moon than it is to penetrate one's own being” - Carl Jung
Here are two pictures from one of my favorite websites, Astronomy Picture of the Day. What is it about orbiting particles that they flatten out and form a disk? Consider the solar system - the planets, asteroids, and most comets all lie in the same flat plane aligned with the equator of the sun. Why not spin about the sun at all angles? Two other examples are easier to visualize. The rings of Saturn are very thin as show in this photo. Note also the cool shadow of the rings on the planet.

Here's a photo of a distant galaxy that we see exactly on edge instead of the typical view from above with spirals. Observe how thin the galaxy is with a thin ribbon of bright stars.

Bottom Line

In college I studied mathematics up to a Doctoral Candidate level. (I did not complete a thesis, though I tried twice over two years. Both times another university disproved what I was asked to prove by my advisor.)  And yet the hardest "math" classes I attended were physics classes. One class used tensor (i.e. 3-D) calculus to study the curvature of space about black holes. Reality can get very weird when gravity and spinning are combined.

Last night I saw a film clip of the famous physicist, Richard Feynman, who was asked "why" magnets push on each other. He said he could not explain it unless you already had a solid grounding of physics. Not because he was a poor teacher but because the magnetic force is so fundamentally an aspect of the universe that there was nothing to compare it to as an example. One could compare it to the push/pull of the electrical force but physicists now know that magnets and electricity are the same force so this is merely comparing magnets to itself. He could over-simplify and say the force was like rubber bands. But then if you were to ask him why rubber bands snap back he'd have to admit that, at the lowest level, it was the electrical force behind the pull so we're back to explaining in circles.

This reminds me of the conundrum, how do you explain the taste of salt? What can you compare it to? 

Often we paint Science and Religion as opposites but as Feynman observed, science is built upon basic principles, statements of reality that must be accepted in order to work at higher levels of reality. One could think of these principles as a type of "faith". For example, do we really know that quarks exist? By theory they can never be observed in isolation only through their interaction. How different is this from Faith when defined as belief in something unseen (but felt)? Believers will say they have felt the interaction of God.

I was going to appease scientists by saying that Science differs from Religion in that the fundamental principles change over time as we learn more about reality through experiments and observations. We no longer believe that everything is made of earth, fire, air and water. We've moved from a particle theory of atoms to wave-particle duality. There is some evidence that the physical constants of the universe may not be constant after all but change over time or space. Scientists see themselves as willing to change theories when presented with the "facts".

But what is truth? Science, like Religion, can be influenced by majority opinions - is global warming real? If real is it man made? Scientists argue over this just like theologians with conflicting evidence and with as much venom and anger and emotions. Is string theory real? Is the universe 11 dimensions? What exactly is gravity? We don't really know how the universe works at its lowest levels but one can pick a theory and choose to believe it. Much like picking a Church to follow with its own unique rules and explanations for reality.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Falling asleep at the wheel

"Sleep is like the unicorn - it is rumored to exist, but I doubt I will see any"
The Consumerist sites a AAA study of 2,000 U.S. residents that 41% of drivers admit to having fallen asleep at the wheel, and drowsy driving accounts for about 17% of all crashes, and 2% of vehicular fatalities.
One in 10 said they did so in the past year and 27 percent of those surveyed said they were so tired behind the wheel that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

Drowsy driving was attributed to 730 deaths in 2009--about 2 percent of all vehicular fatalities, but an analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash data reveals that one in six or 16 percent of deadly crashes involve a driver who is sleepy and one in eight result in hospitalization. These statistics are higher than previous estimates and suggest that drowsy driving is a more prevalent factor in crashes, deaths, and injuries.
Bottom Line

The Consumer Reports recommends, "Drinking a good quantity of water helps as it prevents dehydration that can cause drowsiness. It also requires you to pull over regularly and stretch your legs for a bathroom break."

Pull over (preferably at a rest stop) and take a nap. My wife and I once did Tai Chi next to the car to wake up. Throw a Frisbee. Do jumping jacks. Take turns driving.

Caffeine may be good for a short burst but watch out for the "crash" afterwards as the body swings to exhaustion.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

ATM Scams

"Consider this: I can go to Antarctica and get cash from an ATM without a glitch, but should I fall ill during my travels, a hospital there could not access my medical records or know what medications I am on." - Nathan Deal
Hopefully you're aware of ATM skimmers. I'll discuss them below but thought I would start with a low tech way to lose money at an ATM. San Francisco police caught a crook who stuffed napkins into ATM cash dispenser slots. When people tried to withdraw cash, it would get stuck behind the napkins. After they walked away frustrated, the crook dislodged the napkins, and walked away with their cash.

If your ATM money does not come out reach up into the slot and see if there's anything stuck there. If that fails, take a cellphone picture of the ATM screen for evidence and then call the number on the ATM for service or go inside the bank for help.

Now back to skimmers. These are devices designed to steal your card information and pin. Check out the photos at http://www.snopes.com/fraud/atm/atmcamera.asp and http://consumerist.com/2009/04/heres-what-a-card-skimmer-looks-like-on-an-atm.html

There are two things to worry about.

1. A camera that records the PIN you type in. At the snopes link above the camera is hidden inside a pamphlet holder next to the ATM (pictured above). At the consumerist site the camera is in a strip attached to the ceiling.

2. A card scanner attached to the ATM. At both sites the extra scanner is part of a panel affixed to the ATM and look absolutely authentic!  At this site, http://gizmodo.com/5453857/atm-card-skimmers-are-getting-frighteningly-sophisticated, the skimmer is quite thin and covers the card reader.

Bottom Line

What can you do to protect yourself. Not much I'm afraid. Try to cover your fingers as you type the PIN from prying eyes or camera. Use the same ATM and remember what it looks like. If anything changes on the outside of the machine, ask the bank before using the machine.

Any card scanner could be stealing information - at restaurants, gas pumps, grocery stores, etc. If money is stolen report it to the bank and file a police report.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Beverage Secrets

“The materials don't even have the guts to urge kids to drink less soda pop, or eat less candy.” - Michael Jacobson on the new Food Pyramid for Kids

Did you know that the average American drinks 1/5th his daily calories? Many of us drink more than 400 calories every single day, 21% of the daily recommended limit, which is twice as much as we drank 30 years ago. What changed? Women's Health magazine has the answers in 12 Secrets the Beverage Industry Doesn't Want You to Know.

1. How bad can a milk shake be? The Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Shake at Baskin-Robbins requires 50 ingredients and packs 1,690 calories and 46 grams of saturated fat. That's just about an entire day's limit in one drink. Shakes at the ice cream parlors of yore used just 5 ingredients and had fewer calories.

2. Everyone knows ice cream is caloric so I'll consume a healthy fruit drink instead. But the article claims that many of Ocean Spray's drinks contain as little as 20% real juice with 73-85 of the calories from added sugar to sweeten the cranberries. "That amounts to about as much sugar as two scoops of ice cream stuffed into each 8-ounce cup of juice."

3. When you drink a beverage that is "100 percent juice" know that very little of that juice is cranberry or pomegranate or whatever is pictured on the label. Most of the juice is cheaper apple or grape juice and is not much better for you than sugar water.

4. So I'll drink something 100% natural like milk. There are some reasonable fears over the use of bovine growth hormone that makes cows produce more milk. It adds an insulin-like growth factor, IGF-1, to the milk which may cause cancer and other side effects in humans.

5. OK, how about diet soda? It's calorie free and no hormones. Yet there are theories that diet soda makes you hungrier. The body is revved up with a sugar high but there's no calories to burn so the body demands content with hunger cravings.

6. Is soda natural? 7Up claims it is "all natural" but the natural ingredients are subjected to some serious chemistry and centrifuges to turn corn into corn sugar. "A 20-ounce bottle of 7Up has nearly as much sugar as five Breyers Oreo Ice Cream Sandwiches."

7. Cocktails are loaded with sugar. Tom Collins, Whiskey sour, Pina colada and other popular mixes contain twice the sugar as regular soda.

8. "Glaceau doesn't want you to know that a bottle of Vitaminwater has more sugar than a Snickers bar."

9. "The bottled water industry doesn't want you to know that its product isn't any better than the water that comes from your tap, which has passed strict state, federal, and local guidelines."

10. Many of the fruit smoothies you buy come spiked with sugar. Order your smoothie "skinny" and save about 100 calories per 20 oz.

11. "The coffee industry doesn't want you to know that the average latte is worse than a double-scoop ice cream cone."

12.  "The beer and soda industries don't want you to know that aluminum cans are lined with a toxic plastic. Bisphenol A, otherwise known as BPA, that has been identified as a threat to your health."

Bottom Line

For more information see
http://perpetualpreparedness.blogspot.com/2010/04/caffeine.html  Caffeine levels in drinks
http://perpetualpreparedness.blogspot.com/2009/04/things-you-pay-too-much-for.html  Cost of drinks

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mystery Medication

“I was under medication when I made the decision not to burn the tapes.” - Richard M. Nixon
A year ago my wife looked inside a pill bottle and noticed that one of the pills didn't belong. It was a different shape and color and size. There was no way she was going to swallow a mystery pill. Instead we brought it back to the pharmacy to point out an error in their quality control.

If you encounter an unknown pill and want to discover what it is, the National Institute of Health has a Beta website with pills organized by color, shape, etc. http://pillbox.nlm.nih.gov/

Bottom Line

I'm not sure exactly why this website exists (except for pharmacists). What person is going to say, "Hey, I found this cool looking pill on the sidewalk? I think I'll research what it is and then swallow it."

Perhaps it's useful if you find an unlabeled bottle in your medicine cabinet? Or pills that your child/spouse is hiding?

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Problems with modern Government

“Government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidise it” - Ronald Reagan
Original Gerrymander
Here's a collection of articles from just one day that show the many things wrong with the Federal Government today.
WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Federal pay hike? Let’s start with a freeze, then cut 10 percent.
The number of these government workers making more than $150,000 per year has more than doubled since President Obama took office, and it has increased tenfold since 2005, according to USA Today. In 2005, the Defense Department had nine civilian employees making more than $170,000. When Obama took office, the number had risen to 214. The number is now 994 -- an 11,000% increase in five years.
Obama has exacerbated the problem by creating 141,000 new federal jobs since he took office -- and that total doesn't count temporary census workers, the postal service or the uniformed military. Democrats are already talking about using the upcoming lame-duck legislation to grant the federal work force yet another pay increase, this time of 1.4 percent. Never mind that federal pay has increased 3 percent annually since 2005. Never mind that inflation has been nonexistent during that period, or that total compensation for federal bureaucrats has increased nearly four times faster than in the private sector.
Gerrymandering is not a new phenomenon. It’s been around since the very beginnings of our nation, so long that one could fairly say that the United States has been built on the principle of gerrymandering. The very first congressional districts were somewhat gerrymandered, and it’s been downhill ever since. The phenomenon was finally noticed and properly named in 1812 [in a Boston Gazette newspaper article with image above.]
Earmark Myths and Realities
By Sen. Tom Coburn
As Senate Republicans prepare to vote on an earmark moratorium, I would encourage my colleagues to consider four myths and four realities of the debate.
[See article for details.]
Congressmen pay wives from campaign funds
Practice is legal, but some see potential for abuse.
Bottom Line
Hopeless? Let's see what happens in the next two years with the newly elected, more conservative, government at all levels. If things do not improve, 2012 could be a very interesting year as both parties are rejected by the people.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Snake Antivenom Shortage

Genesis 14 God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, you are cursed above all livestock, and above every animal of the field. On your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life.
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel."
- World English Bible

On October 31st of this year, the US was scheduled to run out of antivenom for coral snake bites. The sole US manufacturer of the antivenom, Wyeth (now owned by Pfizer), stopped making the drug back in 2003 since, with fewer than 100 coral bites per year, there was no money to be made with this product. Before they shut down the factory, Wyeth made a five year supply to last through 2008. When no new supplier entered the US market, the FDA tested the drug and extended the expiration date to 2009 and then again extended to Oct 31, 2010.

Now the FDA has authorized a third extension for 2011. BUT there may not be 100 does left to last the next year. Hospitals are keeping mum on how much they have left out of fear that their last few doses will be transferred elsewhere.

Corals are the deadliest snakes native to the U.S. They inject a potent neurotoxin by grabbing hold of their prey and gnawing for 20 to 30 seconds with their little teeth. The bite and the poison cause little pain initially, but within hours victims experience slurred speech, droopy eyelids, and eventually the lungs shutdown. Without antivenom victims usually need to be placed on a ventilator or they die.
Corals can be found across the entire southern US from Kentucky, through the Carolinas, Georgia, Louisiana, all of Florida, Texas, Arkansas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The US varieties are most notable for their red, yellow/white, and black colored banding. There some non-poisonous mimic snakes that look like corals but have a different banding pattern:
If red touches yellow - it kills a fellow 
If red touches black, it is a friend of Jack (or it poison lacks)
Bottom Line

The VIPER institute at the University of Arizona is working with the FDA for approval of an antivenom from a Mexican manufacturer. However this won't be easy and will take time. In the meantime - avoid colorful snakes!

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Fooling the Eyes

“I stayed in a really old hotel last night. They sent me a wake-up letter.” - Steven Wright

Today I'll direct you to another website that does an eye-opening comparison of hotel ad photos versus reality.

Bottom Line

If a picture is worth a thousand words, is the value changed by photoshopping? Even without photo alteration the article shows how careful photo framing can be very misleading.

Happy Veterans Day! It's the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
See my post from last year for a history of the holiday.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day - 2010

It is easy to take liberty for granted, when you have never had it taken from you."  ~Author unknown, sometimes attributed to M. Grundler
When I bought lunch today at a Chinese take-out, the owner asked, is today a holiday? The bank was closed. Initially I said no. Then I looked at the date and realized, yes, it's Veterans Day. With apologies, here's what I wrote about the holiday last year with lots of help from Google (which BTW is showing a flag on their logo this year).

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918 the Germans signed the Armistice at Rethondes, France, for the end of hostilities on the Western Front of World War One. This event is celebrated in many allied countries as Veterans Day, Armistice Day (France), Poppy Day (South Africa), National Day (Poland), Day of Peace (Belgium) and Remembrance Day (British Commonwealth). While the war in Europe ended on this day, hostilities continued in other regions, especially across the former Russian Empire and in parts of the old Ottoman Empire. Italians celebrate Nov 4 with the signing of the Armistice of Villa Giusti that ended WWI in Italy. Australians celebrate ANZAC Day on 25 April remembering the WWI battle of Gallipoli in Turkey.

US President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. The United States Congress passed a concurrent resolution seven years later on June 4, 1926. It was not until May 13, 1938 that congress made the 11th of November in each year a legal holiday; "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day'."

In 1953 an Emporia, Kansas shoe store owner named Al King had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans, not just those who served in World War I. With the help of then-U.S. Rep. Ed Rees, also from Emporia, a bill for the holiday was pushed through Congress. President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law on May 26, 1954. Congress amended this act on November 8, 1954, replacing "Armistice" with Veterans, and it has been known as Veterans Day since.

In 1971 the holiday was moved to the fourth Monday of October in accordance with the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. It was moved back to November 11 in 1978.

In many parts of the world people take a two-minute moment of silence at 11:00 a.m. as a sign of respect for the roughly 20 million who died in the war. The Service of Remembrance in many Commonwealth countries generally includes the sounding of "Last Post," followed by the two minutes of silence, followed by the sounding of "Reveille" (or, more commonly, "The Rouse"), and finished by a recitation of the "Ode of Remembrance." The "Flowers of the Forest", "O Valiant Hearts", "I Vow to Thee, My Country" and "Jerusalem" are often played during the service. Services also include wreaths laid to honour the fallen, a blessing, and national anthems.

The poppy's significance to Remembrance Day is a result of Canadian military physician John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields. Poppies bloomed across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their red colour an appropriate symbol for the bloodshed of trench warfare. An American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries employee, Moina Michael, was inspired by McCrae's poem, and made an effort to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance, and succeeded in having the National American Legion Conference adopt it two years later. Some people choose to wear white poppies, which emphasises a desire for peaceful alternatives to military action. The Royal Canadian Legion suggests that poppies be worn on the left lapel, or as close to the heart as possible.

Bottom Line

For grammarians, please note that while Veteran’s Day and Verterans’ Day are grammatically correct, the official spelling of the holiday in the US is Veterans Day with no apostrophe.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010


"Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds."
-John Perry Barlow

Many people are concerned about their privacy being violated by the Internet. Information about you is collected and sold in ways you might not be aware of. For example, if you unsubscribe to a spam email then you've just told them that the email is an active account reaching a live person. They can sell that fact to other spammers.

dailyfinance.com reports on other agencies that collect information about you in Who Is Watching You?

The IRS "knows everything about what you earn and any major transactions you make. It can access every bit of information it needs to determine how much money" you owe in taxes.

The FBI "keeps a database of over 90 million fingerprints, ... It also has an extensive database of DNA, [since 9/11] It now tracks a large portion of mail, cell phone traffic and Internet activity of people it deems suspicious.

The article also list 9 industries that collect personal information ranked by the number of people they track.

1. Credit Rating Agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion
2. Cell Phone Service Providers
3. Social Media Companies (Facebook)
4. Credit Card Companies
5. Search Engines (Google)
6. Retail Chains (Walmart)
7. Casinos
8. Large Banks (Bank of America, Chase, Citibank)
9. Life Insurance Companies

Bottom Line

Visit the full article for details on how each company is recording what you do. It's quite scary.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Preparing for Winter

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten,
and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow"
"With winter right around the corner, it's never too early to start preparing for snowstorms, icy roads, and other types of severe weather," says FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate.  "Whether you live in an area that is used to severe winters or not, there are three simple steps all Americans should take to get ready: put together an emergency supply kit, develop a family communications plan, and stay informed about the risks and emergencies in your community." For helpful tips and recommendations see http://www.Ready.gov/america/beinformed/winter.html.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) outlook forecast is that the Pacific Northwest could have a colder and wetter than average winter, while the South may be warmer and drier than usual.  Severe winter weather can include snow or subfreezing temperatures, strong winds and ice or heavy rain storms.  An emergency supply kit both at home and in the car will help prepare people for winter power outages and icy or impassable roads.

According to FEMA, an emergency supply kit should include a three-day supply of food and water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio and extra flashlights and batteries.  Thoroughly check and update your family's emergency supply kit and add the following supplies in preparation for winter weather:
  • Ensure your home and car are prepared for the winter weather
  • Buy rock salt to melt ice on walkways
  • Buy sand (we use kitty litter) to improve traction on ice or snow when the car is stuck
  • Purchase snow shovels and other snow removal equipment (keep a small shovel in your car trunk)
  • Have adequate clothing and blankets to help keep you warm.
  • Update your family preparedness plan and contacts list
  • Test your family plan
  • Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government and your children's schools
Bottom Line

Keep informed of weather alerts via TV, radio, email, blackberry, etc. Ensure that you follow at least one of these to get advance notice of the following winter hazards:
  • Freezing Rain creates a coating of ice on roads and walkways.
  • Sleet is rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes roads to freeze and become slippery.
  • Winter Weather Advisory means cold, ice and snow are expected.
  • Winter Storm Watch means severe weather such as heavy snow or ice is possible in the next day or two.
  • Winter Storm Warning means severe winter conditions have begun or will begin very soon.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Did you turn back your clock?

I don't mind going back to daylight saving time. With inflation, the hour will be the only thing I've saved all year. - Victor Borge
Daylight Savings Time ended this weekend, Sunday morning at 2am. So if you arrived at work an hour early, then you forgot to "Fall back" your clocks. Now if I could set the clock back one day, then I could have sent you this message from FEMA on time.

FEMA Encourages Americans to be Prepared as They Turn Their Clocks Back

With Daylight Saving Time coming to an end, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is encouraging Americans to take advantage of the November 7 time change as a reminder to make sure their families are prepared for a possible emergency. A few simple steps like checking smoke alarms, developing a family communications plan, and putting an emergency kit together can go a long way toward keeping families safe.

"As a nation, we can only be as prepared as our public - the most important member of our emergency management team.", says FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. "I encourage everyone, as we fall back an hour, to also take a few simple steps to prepare their homes and loved ones for emergencies, including checking their smoke alarms and putting together an emergency kit."

Information on preparing for emergencies can be found at http://www.ready.gov/. Steps include developing a communications plan to ensure family members know how to get in touch with each other during an emergency, putting together an emergency kit, and staying informed of potential risks. It's important to remember that an emergency could be a large-scale catastrophic disaster, or a smaller-scale event like a car accident or house fire.

In addition to visiting Ready.gov, the United States Fire Administration is encouraging families to ensure their homes are equipped with working smoke alarms. A working smoke alarm significantly increases your chances of surviving a deadly home fire so it's important to test alarms regularly and keep them properly maintained. This includes checking the manufacture/expiration date on the label, replacing the batteries, and cleaning dust away from the slots so that smoke can enter freely.

For more information about home smoke alarms and fire sprinklers, please visit: www.usfa.dhs.gov/smokealarms.

FEMA's mission is to support our first responders and ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

Bottom Line

Did you notice that "make a kit" was included multiple times in the FEMA announcement. Hopefully you already have a well stocked house for emergencies and a kit for every car and work office. If that's the case then use the Daylight Saving Time changes as a reminder to refresh your kits. Who wants to eat a 10-year old snack bar or drink an ancient bottled water? Batteries lose charge if not replaced, or worse yet, corrode and leak acid. The spare underwear you packed may have rotted or the clothes you packed for kids no longer fit. Any financial and personal information you duplicated for your kit may be out of date.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Food for Thought

Weekend Bonus

The Consumerist describes a new sandwich invention, the Angry French Canadian.
The sandwich starts with a base of egg-soaked baguette French toast. Then there's some bacon and several street vendor hot dogs -- buns included. Of course it wouldn't be French Canadian without poutine: French fries slathered in gravy and melted cheese. Oh, and don't forget the maple syrup.
Bottom Line

This might actually taste good but NOT on my diet!

P.S. Don't forget to turn the clock back tonight for the end of Daylight Savings Time.
Spring forward and Fall back.

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Friday, November 5, 2010

I'm ready for my closeup

“Shoot for the moon and if you miss you will still be among the stars.” - Les Brown
On Nov 4th NASA's Deep Impact space probe visited the nucleus of   comet Hartley 2. This was the 5th time in history a probe has visited a comet.

Bottom Line

This photo was taken at a distance of 700 kilometres of a comet which is only 1.5 kilometres across. This is equivalent to photographing a person from over a half mile away. That quite a telephoto lens!

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Thursday, November 4, 2010


“I thought so hard I got a headache.” - J.D. Cobb
Some serious illnesses can be difficult to detect. Appendicitis is often confused with stomach pain. Since the heart has no pain nerves a Heart Attack makes itself felt as left arm pain or nausea. Likewise with stroke, would you recognize the precursor symptoms of a stroke?

At http://www.everydayhealth.com/ patient hcwriter describes the symptoms she experienced before her stroke.

The First Precursor: The Pain in My Legs
“I can't really say exactly what happened when I had my hemorrhagic stroke on April 8, 2009, because I was unconscious for the first eight days. I can tell you about some events before…
It was Thursday, March 26, when ... I had an awful pain in my feet and ankles … I realized if the pain continued until the next day, I couldn't go to work.
I woke Friday morning and the pain was worse. I called my ENT doctor and he put me a round of antibiotics since I had ear surgery two weeks before. Maybe I was getting an ear infection. The doctor didn't know.
[On Saturday] I called a friend of ours, an Orthopedic Surgeon, and these were his words to me: "If a warm bath doesn't help and if the pain increases and moves up your leg on Sunday, go to the Emergency Room."
[On Sunday] All of the above happened and I was scared. I drove myself to the ER on Sunday. I was tested using an Ultrasound and the doctor saw blood clots in both legs. My platelets … had also dropped dangerously low.… I was admitted.
The Second Precursor: My Experience with a Blood Thinner
During the next two days, I was given tests and my blood clots in both legs were reconfirmed. … A hematologist … put me on Lovenox, an injectable blood thinner, … to break up the clots.
On April 1, the hospital finally released me and I drove myself home. … The pain in my legs was still there and it was constant. Over the next two days, I saw an improvement in the pain level. … I thought, I had narrowly escaped something that would throw my life is disarray. Besides, this wasn't a good time to miss work, with events coming up, one after the other. It's never a good time to miss work.
The Third Precursor: A Cosmic Headache
Tuesday evening [April 7] I had the beginnings of a headache. I could count on one hand how many times I've had headaches in the past twenty-five years. [She stayed the night at a friend’s house and the pain increased. After 9pm she took some Tylenol.] Somehow, after a while, I fell asleep. And that was all I knew.
I went into convulsions about 4:30 am. I missed the paramedics who came to my friend's house, [I missed] the hospital … where I spent fifteen hours under observation, and [I missed] the flight to Capital Health in Trenton, known for treating severe neurological problems.
Eight days later, I am told, I woke up. And that's what I heard first upon awakening: You've had a stroke. I was stunned to hear that news, but when I wanted to speak, to ask questions about why the stroke happened, no words were coming out. I …was without speech.
There are two types of strokes. 80% are ischemic stroke when a brain artery has been blocked by a blood clot. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery ruptures or leaks. If an artery is unable to supply a portion of the brain with oxygen-rich blood, that portion of the brain can become permanently injured within minutes. Stroke often results in permanent serious complications and disability. It is the second leading cause of death worldwide and the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

Bottom Line
“A stroke was the furthest thing from my mind. It was something that happened to other people, which leads me to believe, if I could have a stroke, anybody could have a stroke.”
Many strokes are sudden with no warning. If you experience one of the following “mini-stroke” symptoms, get emergency treatment immediately before the brain is permanently damaged:
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion or problems understanding
  • Sudden difficulty speaking
  • Sudden vision difficulty in one or both eyes
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, or difficulty walking
  • Sudden, severe headache with no apparent cause

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Lost Art of Survival

“America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.” - Oscar Wilde
Civilization is a fragile thing. We depend upon so many skills and talents of others. Consider driving a car. Could you replicate the rubber of the tires, the metal of the exterior, the electronics of the on board computers, the engineering of the engine, the production of oil and gasoline?  Recently I mentioned that ancient Rome used forks but this concept was lost with the Dark Ages. Also lost were heated baths, indoor plumbing, concrete, and many other technologies that made Roman cities famous.

A recent commuting lecture series on "Ancient Empires before Alexander the Great" described an empire in Mesopotamia that was a marvel of central planning with all labor and production organized by the Capitol. This lasted several decades but the next generation of rulers were not as skilled at planning; a drought and crop loss began a cascade of problems that unraveled the carefully made plans and the empire fell apart with food revolts.

Unfortunately the more advanced the civilization, the more dependent we become upon it, and ever less capable of surviving on our own. Most have lost the knowledge that comes from living "the simple life". How to grow food, build a home, make a fire from scratch, etc. I'm always amazed by the stories like "Little House on the Prairie" where a family builds a homestead from scratch.

The loss of basic life skills is not a recent phenomenon. In the late 1800's  Robert Baden-Powell, a Lieutenant General in the British Army, was appalled by the lack of nature skills with city boys drafted into the Army as Scouts. A Scout was required to spy on enemy positions and carry messages through dangerous territory. They needed to live off the land by hunting and gathering, build a fire and conceal it, know how to track others and how to hide. So Baden-Powell wrote a Scouting guide for the hapless soldiers. This book was published in England and became popular with young boys who wanted to play at being soldiers. Recognizing an opportunity, in 1908 Baden-Powell wrote a new book, Scouting for Boys, and began the Boy Scout organization that has spread around the world.

Bottom Line

Despite being a Cub Scout Leader, I would not fare well with outdoor survival. The only animal I've ever killed is fish (and I'm a terrible fisherman). If you want to learn survival skills check out http://www.survivalblog.com/ for daily ideas. A good starting point is Learning Traditional Skills covering the basics of Food, Water, Shelter and Fire.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Making a List

He's got 'em on the list — he's got 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed
— they'll none of 'em be missed.
- operetta Mikado by Gilbert and Sullivan
When discussing Emergency Planning, everyone wants a list. For surely if I buy everything on the list I'll be safe, right? Wrong. Every family will have unique needs depending on children and their ages, pets, elderly, medical conditions etc. Instead of a list of things I present a list of questions to help you plan on what you'll need if you must shelter in place or evacuate.

Bodily needs
   What will I drink?
   What will I eat?
   How will I stay clean?  Toilet & toiletries
   How will I handle medical emergencies/first aid?

Mental/Social needs
   How will I stay sane and reduce stress?  Toys for kids, Scriptures, puzzle books, ...
   How will I stay informed? Emergency Radio
   How will I communicate to others for help?  cell phone, whistle, fire

Environmental needs
   How will I breathe?  Face mask?
   How will I see in the dark?  Matches, flashlights, etc.
   How will I stay warm? Heat, fire, blankets, spare socks, coats, etc
   How will I avoid heat exposure in summer? Hat, sunscreen. sunglasses, water
   How will I stay dry?  Shelter, rain gear
   How will I sleep?

Bottom Line

The list should be fairly obvious but for one. Everyone overlooks the "How will I breathe" topic.
The idea of sealing yourself in a room with plastic and duct tape against a chemical spill or terrorist attack is great, until you run out of air and die. With 9/11 the air was thick with dust and asbestos so covering your face was essential. During blackouts people die from using a gas powered generators inside their homes and experiencing carbon-monoxide poisoning. So don't forget air.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

What the fork???

“The true Christian is in all countries a pilgrim and a stranger” -George Santayana
For our wedding anniversary my wife & I traveled to Plimoth Plantation to share a Harvest Feast dinner with the "pilgrims". I put pilgrim in quotes because one of the Plimouth residents we spoke to objected to the term. "This isn't the Holy Land", he said. It turns out that only half the residents were religious pilgrims, the other half were loyal Church of England members. When the Pilgrims chartered the colony and the Mayflower they realized that their congregation was mostly weavers and tailors. For a colony to succeed they needed a blacksmith, cooper, baker, tanner, etc. So they opened up the colony to "outsiders" to get these skills with a promise that the outsiders would allow the pilgrims to worship according to their own dictates.

Anyhow, back to the Harvest Feast dinner which I mentioned. As the "shallet" (salad) course was served it quickly became apparent that there were no forks! Each place setting contained only a large spoon and a slightly dull knife. The shallet also had no dressing which is a good thing when forced to eat it with fingers.

While my wife & I enjoyed the meal, we both agree that Plimoth failed in its mission to educate. There was no discussion of why the fork was missing or what were the proper 1627 manners for eating. No mention of where the ingredients came from or why the dishes served were selected. Was the food served common or a rare treat? The only way to know was to ask one of the "locals" at the meal and that was often very difficult since they stay 100% true to character and refuse to speak of anything beyond 1627.

After arriving back at home I looked up forks on Wikipedia. It turns out Shakespeare ate with his fingers (and knife and spoon) as did all the early Americans in the 17th century. Before Christ the fork was used primarily as a serving utensil (by the ancient Greeks, and ancient Hebrews, I Samuel 2:13). Romans may have used metal forks for eating and this custom was preserved in the Byzantine East but lost in the European West during the "Dark Ages". The custom traveled from Constantinople back to Italy in the 11th century but took 500 years to become popular and common with Italians. (How do you eat spaghetti without a fork?)
The fork's adoption in northern Europe was [even] slower. Its use was first described in English by Thomas Coryat in a volume of writings on his Italian travels (1611), but for many years it was viewed as an unmanly Italian affectation. Some writers of the Roman Catholic Church expressly disapproved of its use, seeing it as "excessive delicacy": "God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks — his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metallic forks for them when eating."
Some nobility in Europe would bring their personal fork to dinner but it was not until the 18th century that the fork became commonly used in Great Britain and America. So we can assume that George Washington used a fork.

Bottom  Line

Be grateful for your fork!  Dinner is a lot messier without it.

I recall a Chinese meal of Cantonese Lobster. The lobster was chopped and covered in a thick sauce but NOT deshelled. What a mess trying to remove the sauce-covered shells. It did not matter if you used forks or chop sticks - there was no way to eat this meal without getting messy. I've never ordered it again.

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